Paris and the Climate Crisis: A Beginning, but Not a Solution

By Craig Wolfe

There was great hope for the Paris Climate Conference or COP21, November 30 – December 12, 2015. There was great relief that the world actually came to an agreement. But, as expected by those in the know, what came out of Paris was not the blueprint to follow for the next few decades which would lead us away from the brink of planetary catastrophe. Here’s my take on the Paris talks.

Finally, FINALLY, the world has officially recognized that the planet is getting warmer, and that we must keep the rise in temperature below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and aim at an even lower target of keeping rise below 2.7 degrees F.

It is where the deal falls short that is critical. While world governments have agreed on the need for action, missing is the enforcement and the how and when the transition from fossil fuels to renewables will take place. The deal was carefully constructed to be a legal document but also to avoid requiring approval by the U.S. Congress, which would have rejected it. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that investors, bankers, businesses, and governments heard 186 nations say that we need to abandon our fossil fuel future and move to renewables. But as climate activists know now (and knew before Paris), that climate work will continue, and with a greater sense of urgency. The challenges are immense, and the rewards, if realized, are exhilarating. The battle is on two fronts: 1) stopping resistance by the fossil fuel industry and 2) accelerating production, innovation, and investment in wind, solar, and other types of renewable energy.

The Battle Against the Fossil Fuel Giants

If you are over 100 years old, you remember the battle against the Horse and Buggy Giants, the power of the Horse and Buggy lobby, and the bloody battles that took place in legislatures so that we could move from animal power to fossil fuels.

Well, not really. But just imagine what we are up against now. The fossil fuel industry is the most powerful industry our planet has ever known. The Koch Brothers are the perfect metaphor … creating foundations and research to create false information and damaging ready-made legislation tailor-made to stymie renewable energy and protect their financial interests. Did you ever wonder why legislators have such a hard time recognizing the truth and not acting in the best interests of their constituents? I am sure you know.

AND, if we are to be successful, we (you and I) must bring this giant of giants to a massive decline of power and influence.

The bottom line of this effort is that this industry must leave 80 percent of their known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. All that investment that they have counted on for their future profits must be considered a stranded asset … worth nothing. It is no wonder that the fossil fuel giants are so desperate in their fight for survival.

Accelerating Renewable Energy

This is the fun part. The cool part. The healthy part. The exhilarating part. The job-creating part. Imagine a world with no pollution from fossil fuels. Where our power comes from the sun and wind … free. All we need to do is make the devices to net this free energy. And that will take lots of innovation and the creation of many, many well-paying jobs.

But there is a lot to be accomplished and the next four decades to reach the goal of 100 percent renewable energy to power the planet. Really smart innovative people are working on it right now. More will join in. The key to it all is investment. The Paris agreement has sent a strong signal to the markets … “We must move to a clean, safe, renewable energy future.” And the markets and governments are responding. Prices for wind and solar are coming down. New technologies are becoming available.

Here are some of the key words and phrases that will become a part of our energy future: smart grid, wind power, solar power, solar thermal, geothermal, hydroelectricity, bio energy, grid energy storage, grid reliability, grid security, cellulosic ethanol, artificial photosynthesis, algae fuels, intelliGrid, GridWise, and on and on. It can make your head spin.

What we can and need to do.

It is more than mere mortals like you and me to comprehend. But we don’t have to. What we do need to do is decide. You and I can decide to buy a hybrid vehicle, purchase solar energy for our homes for our roofs, or purchase wind and solar to power our homes from special utilities. We can make our homes use less energy. We can change our diets. We can decide!!

And most importantly, we can decide to work to remove the legislative obstacles in the way of meaningful progress. Climate deniers in government keep the rich and powerful fossil fuel giants in power and pass their destructive legislation. In return, the government deniers keep their power and position. Climate deniers stand in the way of making advances in renewable energy. Climate deniers are condemning the planet to an unsustainable future. Climate deniers are, in effect, committing planetary treason … selling their votes for power, position, and financial gain. We must not allow these deniers to decide the future of our children and grandchildren.

 

Below is the distilled version of the agreement as found on the UN Conference on Climate Change website page.

Why is this agreement historic and why will 12 December 2015 be remembered as a great day for the planet?
It has been widely recognized, with unanimous agreement from scientists, that the earth’s atmosphere is growing warmer due to greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity. The aim of the Paris Conference that was held from 30 November to 12 December at the Le Bourget exhibition centre was to come up with a response to this problem, which is threatening to wipe out the human presence in certain parts of the world.

Keeping the rise in temperature below 3.6°F
This agreement marks a change in direction, towards a new world. It confirms the target of keeping the rise in temperature below 3.6°F. Scientists believe that a greater increase in temperature would be very dangerous. The agreement even establishes, for the first time, that we should be aiming for 2.7°F, to protect island states, which are the most threatened by the rise in sea levels.

How can we manage to avoid global warming?
By 12 December 2015, 186 countries had published their action plan; each of these plans sets out the way in which they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The UN body that deals with climate change (the UNFCCC*) published an evaluation of these contributions on 1 November 2015. This study showed that despite the unprecedented mobilization shown by nations, at this rate global warming would still be between 4.8°F and 5.4°F, i.e. above the threshold set by scientists.

The Paris agreement therefore asks all countries to review these contributions every five years from 2020; they will not be able to lower their targets and are encouraged, on the contrary, to raise them.

In addition, emissions should peak as soon as possible and the countries will aim to achieve carbon neutrality in the second half of the century. This is a real turning point. We are going to gradually stop using the most polluting fossil fuels in order to reach this goal.

How else can States limit the rise in temperature?
The agreement acknowledges that $100 billion (in loans and donations) will need to be raised each year from 2020 to finance projects that enable countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change (rise in sea level, droughts, etc.) or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement specifies that this amount should increase. Some developing countries will also be able to become donors, on a voluntary basis, to help the poorest countries. This is a first. The agreement schedules an initial meeting in 2025, where further quantified commitments will be made regarding assistance to the poorest countries.

Are all countries equally responsible for global warming?
One of the main principles of climate negotiations is that countries have common but differentiated responsibilities when it comes to climate change, depending on their wealth in particular. The agreement establishes an obligation for industrialized countries to fund climate finance for poor countries, while developing countries are invited to contribute on a voluntary basis. As regards transparency, a stronger system for tracking commitments, which allows developing countries a certain amount of flexibility, has also been set up in order to keep track of everyone’s efforts.

And it is not only States that can protect the climate…
Le Bourget hosted the first “Action Week” (LPAA*), which was an opportunity for local governments, businesses and banks to take action to combat global warming. This is one of the major global shifts that are underway. The Paris agreement proposes continuing the Lima-Paris Action Agenda to ensure that these actors remain mobilized. Two “champions” will be selected from among these actors by the two successive presidencies of the COP (France and Morocco) to encourage them to keep taking action.

When does this agreement enter into force?
The agreement will be open for signing by the countries on 22 April in New York. The agreement can only enter into force once it has been ratified by 55 countries, representing at least 55% of emissions.

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